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McDonald on top despite Derby shock

30 October 2022 Written by VRC

It was the James McDonald show on Penfolds Victoria Derby Day at Flemington - that is, until his Kiwi counterpart Michael Dee rained on his parade to continue his monumental spring.

Dee partnered the Chris Waller-trained Manzoice to win the opening feature of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the $2 million Group 1 Penfolds Victoria Derby (2500m), defeating McDonald’s mount Sharp ‘n’ Smart by a half-length.

It was a quick turnaround in a week, with the Graeme and Debbie Rogerson-prepared Sharp ‘n’ Smart taking out last Saturday’s Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) in which Manzoice was four and a half lengths away in eighth.

The victory also came two weeks after another career highlight for the 26-year-old jockey, who won the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) on Waller’s Durston. And his spring could get even better on Tuesday when he partners Group 3 Lexus Bart Cummings (2500m) winner Lunar Flare in the Lexus Melbourne Cup.

“If you said to me before this spring that I’d have two major Group 1s coming up, I’d probably have laughed,” Dee said. “It is pretty surreal and hopefully it can continue.

“Walking around the yard I thought he’s certainly a Derby horse. He’s just so calm, got such a big stride on him and it all panned out. He was very strong.”

While Dee may have been centre stage after the headline race, Penfolds Victoria Derby Day as a whole was primarily about the remarkable feats of McDonald.

The rider, who is in contention to be named World’s Best Jockey by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) in Hong Kong in December, dominated the first half of the card with four winners from the first six races.

The haul, which left racegoers shaking their heads in amazement, matched his feat on this day last year and has only been equalled by Michael Clarke, who rode four winners on Derby Day in 1990.

Steven King, winner of five races on the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival in 1993, holds the overall record for most victories on a single day of the carnival.

James McDonald salutes after In Secret won the Coolmore Stud Stakes. (Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Among McDonald’s quartet was Godolphin filly In Secret, a breathtaking winner of the $2 million Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m).

Sent out as a warm favourite for the three-year-old sprinting feature, In Secret made a mess of her rivals, racing two lengths clear of fellow filly C’est Magique - ironically, ridden by Dee - to land one of the most important races on the calendar.

“It’s a good feeling winning that race,” trainer James Cummings said. “The Coolmore Stud Stakes has become the Golden Slipper of the Spring Racing Carnival for three-year-olds.

“I’ve had horses that have won Golden Roses before and you dream about winning a Coolmore because you have to go to the next level to go to Derby Day and perform on the big stage over six furlongs and at set weights against the best.

“On that, you’d have to think she might be a future champion sprinter.”

McDonald’s other winners were aboard the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Zennzella in the Group 2 Racing and Sports Wakeful Stakes (2000m), Old Flame for Peter and Paul Snowden in the Group 2 TAB Linlithgow Stakes (1400m) and Waller’s Surefire in the Group 3 Lexus Archer Stakes (2500m).

While McDonald won the Archer for Waller last year with Great House, guaranteeing him a spot in the $8 million Group 1 Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) three days later, Surefire is not among Cup entries and will not be seen on Tuesday.

However, runner-up Serpentine - once a winner of one of the world’s great races, the Group 1 Epsom Derby (2400m) - secured his spot for the ‘race that stops a nation’™ with his second placing and will return to Flemington again on Lexus Melbourne Cup Day.

Icebath (NZ) ridden by Craig Williams wins the TAB Empire Rose Stakes. (Reg Ryan/Racing Photos)

The third of the Group 1 races at Headquarters on Saturday, the $1 million Empire Rose Stakes (1600m), was claimed by the very deserving Icebath for trainer Brad Widdup and jockey Craig Williams.

Icebath had earned more than $4.6 million before her win on Saturday but had the unwanted moniker - particularly for a mare - of the highest earner in history who had not won a stakes race. She had a remarkable 12 stakes placings to her name, including five at the highest level, but had not been able to secure that all-important stakes victory.

That changed with her long neck triumph over Mirra Vision that produced scenes of joy from connections.

“She’s now a Group 1 winning mare and it was great,” said Williams. “She was certainly tough, she’s really thrived down here and she was awesome.”

Williams secured a double himself after taking the opening Group 3 Network 10 Carbine Club Stakes (1600m) on the John Sargent-trained Perfect Thought. Carrying the famous Think Big Stud checkerboard colours of the late Dato Tan Chin Nam, that victory came 27 years after another horse in those silks - future Melbourne Cup winner Saintly - scored his first stakes win in the same race.

Next weekend’s Group 1 VRC Darley Champions Sprint (1200m) could potentially beckon for the Anthony and Sam Freedman-trained Argentia after her success in the Group 3 Paramount+ Rising Fast Stakes (1200m) under Damien Oliver, while Group 3 Furphy Sprint (1100m) hero Asfoora will target the autumn after her strong victory for Henry Dwyer and John Allen.

Over 71,000 racegoers returned to Flemington on Saturday for the opening day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. The action continues on Tuesday with Lexus Melbourne Cup Day and Thursday with Kennedy Oaks Day before coming to a close with TAB Champions Stakes Day next Saturday.

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